March 23 2016 12:41 AM

‘Motortown’ an unflinching look at psychological toll of war

“Motortown” is not the kind of play that one likes, in the same way one shouldn’t like a film like “A Clockwork Orange.” Admire, certainly, but like? Nope. Lansing Community College’s production is one of the more risky and challenging plays produced in the area in recent years, and it pulls no punches.

Danny (Michael Boxleitner) is a British soldier who has just returned from duty, and the play focuses on his disorienting first day home. The play opens with his brother, Lee (Heath Sartorius), warning him that his former girlfriend, Marley (Anna Raymo), is frightened by the letters Danny wrote her and has asked that he not contact her. The next thing he does, of course, is to track her down at a local café. Her rejection sends him into an epic downward spiral.

Danny (Michael Boxleitner; left) and Jade (Hannah Janelle Price) deal with the psychological fallout from Danny's military service in LCC's production of "Motortown."
Courtesy Photo

He attempts to arm himself, which lands him in the company of the truly psychotic Paul (Todd Heywood) and his teenage companion, Jade (Hannah Janelle Price). Paul unloads his opinions about everything that is wrong with the world while simultaneously reveling in his immoral relationship with the 14-year-old girl. Danny is repulsed by the relationship, but it seems he is particularly disgusted by Jade’s detached acceptance of her role.

It is difficult to continue summarizing the plot without destroying the tar-thick tension that builds as Danny unravels. It is not pleasant, and the ending will not satisfy many viewers. It will, however, give them much to discuss and debate on the way home (for a shower) or the nearest bar (for a shot).

Director Andy Callis has assembled an outstanding cast who make the unlikeable characters mesmerizing. Sartorius does a 180-degree turn from the confident businessman he portrayed earlier this year in “Never Swim Alone.” His Lee, who is likely somewhere on the autism scale, is a sweet nebbish, uncomfortable in his own skin but more self-aware than people give him credit for.

Boxleitner has shed any last remnants of the adolescence with which he arrived at LCC. He is lean and angular, and his eyes are laser beams of anger, barely softening even when he soothes Lee. His Danny is chaotic in word and deed, acting out of pure id with no plan or exit strategy. (There may be a metaphor here, considering he was stationed in Iraq.)

Paul is the polar opposite. While his speech is full of venom, his delivery is as hypnotic as a cobra’s stare. Paul stalks the stage, circling Danny and winding him up with his rat-a-tat rants. Heywood brings a phenomenally creepy charisma to the role. One doesn’t like what Paul has to say, but one can’t look away, either.

Playwright Simon Stephens has created a work that investigates the intersection of genetic mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder and violence. Danny’s actions are a culmination of childhood victimization, rejection and isolation, as well as the effects of the war on his fragile and damaged psyche. The complex background is there in the script, requiring the audience to pay close attention to every seemingly throwaway comment. A second viewing may not be any more enjoyable than the first, but it would certainly help in unraveling Danny’s unraveling.


“Motortown”

LCC Theatre Program 8 p.m. Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26 $10/$5 students, seniors, LCC staff and alumni Black Box Theatre, 168 Gannon Building 422 N. Washington Square, Lansing (517) 483-1483, lcc.edu/showinfo

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